There’s a billboard on the way home from work that drives me crazy every time I see it – it’s been there for at least a year or more, an advertisement for some sort of online job search, and consists of the following:
What is the better decision?
- Having the job you want
- Desiring a job
This astounding display of semantic nonsense works its voodoo on me like I was a 1970’s supercomputer gone sentient; my mental reel-to-reel machines start spinning uncontrollably, tape and punchcards eject randomly, and then there is a minor explosion, followed by smoke and metallic wheezing.
Having the job you want is not a decision. It is a state. I could decide to get a job, surely; I could even decide that I want a job, even. But I cannot decide to be having a job. I could diagram such a sentence – it’s not ungrammatical – but it would be laughable. There is something very off-putting about having an infinitive as a direct object that in turn has a participle as its object, surely, but it is even more off-putting to claim that possession of a job is a mere decision to be made by the job-seeker.
Likewise, desiring a job is not a decision. I can desire a job; I can, also, desire to have a job. But I can’t decide to desire a job. Either I desire a job or I don’t. It’s like asking someone to decide to be breathing.
Even rearranged – “Having the job you want is the better decision” – provokes a mental BSOD. Cannot compute! It’s the English language counterpart to nails on a blackboard.